Rotary Minute: Shannon Leskin

Shannon Leskin attended her first Durham Rotary Club meeting in the fall of 2010 as a guest of Ken Lundstrom and joined the club shortly there after. She has lived in Durham for the past 24 years. She and her husband, Will, live in Trinity Park with their two dogs, Gracie and Murray. They have one son, Edwin, who resides in Asheville, NC.

When thinking about what being a member of Rotary means to her, the first ideal that comes to mind is the Rotary motto, “Service above Self”. Shannon likes to think of it as service above self (interest). She told the club about a time in her professional life when she had to make the choice to put service to another individual above what would have been her own best interest and that of the company.

32 years ago Shannon was producing professional regional theatre, think of Playmakers Rep in Chapel Hill, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a particularly scary and sad time as the AIDS crisis was reaching a pinnacle and devastating the arts community. The PR Manager at the theatre contracted AIDS. The theatre had employee health insurance and it was imperative that this gentleman remain on the insurance. As his condition deteriorated.,Shannon and the staff found jobs that he could do either from home or coming into the office.

When it came time for the annual budget review the health insurance quote came in 100% higher than the previous year. This was due to the employee with AIDS. The Board Finance Committee questioned the premium and urged the dismissal of the employee to save money. Shannon said “no”. The alternative for him would be isolating and devastating. Several days later a call came from the Board Chair that there would be an executive session meeting to discuss her decision. At the meeting it became clear that the Board wanted Shannon to fire the employee in order to save money.

Shannon was 27 years of age at the time and one of only 7 women running professional theatres in the US. She laughingly told us her Board members were all old, “in their 40″s. She remembers being very nervous but knew she could not follow their directive. She said to them “I am a Christian, raised Episcopalian, and I know a lot of you are too. We don’t “know” that there is a God. We are all going on faith here. But, if there is God who has a man at the gate with a check list, I don’t know about you, but I want to get in. If we do this we won’t” They dropped the request and David Delong died in hospice with dignity.

It was certainly not in her best interest to refuse a directive from her boss(s), nor was it a prudent business decision to incur that cost, but it was the right decision. Putting service to others can mean putting your own self interest aside and just “doing the right thing’. Shannon closed her “Rotary Minute” by reminding us that 32 years later we as a society are still not always putting service to others above self, and that being a Rotarian means that we live that ideal and have the opportunity to lead by example.

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